Friday, July 24, 2009

Stay out of the water

Joseph Delaney continues to develop hair-raising adventures for young Tom Ward, The Last Apprentice to the County Spook, John Gregory. Tom -- who's been with the Spook for two years now -- has become the target of the Fiend (who was freed by a witchy coven in the previous installment), and the Spook thinks he needs a bit more martial arts training. So, in Wrath of the Bloodeye, Tom is sent to a temporary apprenticeship with Bill Arkwright, a Spook with a drinking problem still living with his parents (sort of). Alas, the Fiend has enlisted some water witches to seek Tom out, and -- once again -- the lad must save himself.

The image on the cover is the hand of the Bloodeye -- the daughter of the Fiend -- who unhooks the small bone closing her bloodshot eye in order to paralyze her victims, then she spears them through the jaw with her talons and drags them underwater to drown. It's another one of Delaney's thrillingly scary creatures of the dark, given a truly terrifying voice by the series narrator, Christopher Evan Welch. She has a few lines of dialog, but she'll make your blood run cold.

I'm extremely partial to Welch and these books. The core of this series isn't the fantastic creatures or the horror they inflict on the poor defenseless (except for the Spook) County; it's the three characters -- living as a small family -- Tom, the Spook, and Tom's friend, Alice Deane. (We learn something shocking about Alice in this book.) And I think that Welch gets this. (Of course, it could be that I enjoy Welch's characterizations of the three of them so much that this colors my impression.) These three people are vivid to me when voiced by Welch. I pretty much want to keep up with the stories because I know them.

In this installment (the fifth), I swear I hear more maturity in Tom's voice as well as a softening in the Spook's. Tom will be taking some dramatic steps towards independence, and I'm feeling he's more than ready. I can't wait for the next one. I was also glad to learn of at least one young fan who feel the same way: Our local newspaper ran an article on kids and (lower-case) summer reading and Gustavo Herrera gave a shout-out to The Last Apprentice.

I've got one tiny worry: There are several places in this story where Tom experiences extreme fear or sustains serious injury, most vividly when a skelt impales him on its sucking snout and begins to drain his blood. Welch keeps reading calmly. It was a trifle odd. I think the passage called for a wee bit more vocal acting. Welch's portrayal of Tom has always sounded spot-on to me: A largely innocent observer of a terrifying world. So, when Tom steps out of the observer role, I wonder if that calls for a bit more emoting.

I've gotten out of the listening habit for the other apprentice series that I enjoy: The Ranger's Apprentice. Maybe I'll give the next installment of Tom and the Spook my eyes as well. I'll still hear Welch in my mind's ear ...

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